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EMC, NetApp unveil new top-end products

The storage leaders EMC and Network Appliance are releasing new top-end products that target each other, large competitors and a host of start-ups.

Storage leaders EMC and Network Appliance, with dueling approaches to the storage market, are releasing new top-end products that target each other, large competitors and a host of start-ups.

On Monday, EMC began offering its new top-end Symmetrix 8830 storage system, with an emphasis on consolidation to connect it to as many servers as possible. On Tuesday, NetApp will announce its F880 and a strategy of distributing data across the globe that contrasts sharply with EMC's philosophy of centralization.

Although EMC and NetApp increasingly are competing against each other, the companies generally sell different types of storage devices.

EMC's products connect to mainframes and other high-end servers and typically house data for large databases. NetApp's lower-end machines are used for tasks such as housing e-mail messages, financial information or medical data accessed over company networks. Whereas EMC's Symmetrix price tag can soar into the millions of dollars, NetApp's top-end products only exceed $1 million in their most expensive configurations, NetApp executives say.

EMC has been focusing on large, centralized systems that are in the core of businesses' computer networks, highlighting its new 8830 as a way to achieve "hyperconsolidation," or the combining of disparate data-storage systems into fewer, higher-capacity systems. NetApp, by contrast, emphasizes its "global data fabric," which combines larger, centralized storage systems with software that can spread it to smaller ones across the network but closer to the people who need the information.

In practice, the companies' philosophies aren't as far apart as they appear, Illuminata analyst John Webster said, because NetApp still needs centralized storage and EMC's products accommodate the need to distribute information.

The new products come at a critical juncture for the storage industry, with growing competition, economic troubles and shifting approaches to storage.

On the rival front, EMC is dealing with major competition from established giants such as Hitachi Data Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems. NetApp faces those competitors and more. And storage start-ups such as Rhapsody Networks, Nishan Systems and 3Ware are still cropping up despite the difficult economic environment.

EMC At the same time, the architectural underpinnings of high-end storage are shifting. A movement to use the Internet Protocol (IP) rather than the faster but more expensive Fibre Channel connection standard is gaining steam. At the same time, InfiniBand technology could lead to a third option. In addition, companies are trying to embrace storage "virtualization," in which the physical details of storage systems are hidden beneath a layer of software that frees administrators from having to worry so much about precisely which hard disk among hundreds is storing which information.

EMC is working on a virtualization strategy, said David Donatelli, the company's senior vice president of corporate marketing and new business development. EMC's next major upgrade will be of software not hardware, Donatelli said, and a feature called AutoIS will include virtualization abilities.

Times changing
Still, circumstances have changed for EMC and NetApp in the last year, Webster said. While EMC products are under intense price pressure from competitors such as Hitachi Data Systems, NetApp actually has come out ahead overall because its storage systems are cheaper and less complex than some higher-end alternatives. "It's cheaper and easier," Webster said.

"People are unwilling to pay the price premium" for EMC systems, Webster asserted. A year ago, EMC Executive Chairman Mike Ruettgers said his company wasn't bothered by competitive pressures, but Webster observed that Monday's announcement was filled with comparisons with EMC competitors.

EMC's harder times are evident in its layoffs in May and a profit warning in July.

The new Symmetrix 8830 system can hold as much as 69.5 terabytes of data in a single refrigerator-size cabinet that contains many of Seagate's new 181.6GB Barracuda 180 disk drives. The 8830 also uses more and faster CPUs--up to 80 333MHz Power PC processors instead of the previous 32 266MHz models in the previous top-end Symmetrix 8730 model.

The new Symmetrix also can connect to as many as 96 servers simultaneously, and the 64GB of high-speed "cache" memory that stores incoming and outgoing data can be split into 16 separate partitions so that different servers are vying for the same memory access.

NetApp EMC also unveiled midrange 8530 and lower-end 8230 Symmetrix products Monday.

EMC asserts that its design makes its products superior to all rivals, including Hitachi's Lightning systems also sold by HP and Sun. Hitachi says its newer technology is better. "EMC's announcement is the last gasp of an ancient, dead-end architecture," the company said in a statement.

Donatelli responds that shifting to Hitachi?s newer architecture forced customers to change their software, whereas EMC's systems can be installed with no such disruption.

The new F880 from NetApp also has some major new hardware. It is the first multiprocessor system, the company said, and it uses faster Pentium III CPUs, leading to a much faster communication ability. Its total capacity of 9 terabytes is better than the 6 terabytes of its predecessor, the F840.

In "clustered" configurations that join two systems, the total capacity increases to 18 terabytes, said Ray Villeneuve, NetApp vice president of strategic marketing.

NetApp also upgraded software used to manage the entire suite of the company's products, from the F880 at the center to the systems that store data in more remote locations.

The F880 will increase some worries at EMC, Webster noted. The multiprocessor abilities of NetApp's new products make it better suited for the jobs such as housing databases that EMC systems are used for. And EMC's new least expensive Symmetrix models have some overlap with its lower-end Clariion line of storage products.